The story of Michael J. Dowling, a historic leader in the treatment and advocacy of people living with disabilities, shows how the mission of Arthur Gillette, MD, and his hospital co-founder Jessie Haskins influenced the lives of many. Dowling was born in Massachusetts in 1866. After his parents died, he moved to Minnesota on his own and worked as a farmhand in Canby, Minnesota. His life changed when he was 14. A blizzard trapped Dowling while he was tending cattle. He suffered frostbite and that resulted in the amputation of both of his legs below the knee, one arm below the elbow, and several fingers on his other hand. In 1883, Dowling was accepted into Carleton College and became a classmate of Jessie Haskins. She was impressed by Dowling’s independence and confidence. Dowling went on to have a career as an educator, newspaper owner, financial professional, politician, and advocate for people who have disabilities. He believed in the importance of equal access to education for all people. Dowling’s accomplishments impressed many, including Dr. Nils Juel at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Juel was instrumental in creating a school to serve children who had disabilities and in 1920 the Michael Dowling School was opened on West River Road in Minneapolis. Dowling Elementary School educated many children who received care at what was then called the Gillette State Hospital. It continues to educate students today.
“Life is just as rich for me in the things that really count as for any man. Far more so than for some men, I have a wife, family, business, and dozens of interests besides. Handicap? Why, a handicap is just a chance for a good fight. There is only one really insurmountable handicap, so far as I can determine. That is the loss of the inner power which we call the mind. Nothing else is unconquerable.”
--Michael J. Dowling